Author Archives: Rachel Ruhlen

How do you get your baby to the WIC office up the hill?

A steep hill to push a stroller on a hot day

“The bus doesn’t stop in front of the WIC office in the Northwest. Mothers have to walk two blocks to get there with babies and toddlers.”

This comment was a response to a survey question about long range transportation planning. The Northwest WIC clinic is at the First Church of the Brethren on Carroll Ave NW on top of the ridge. The nearest bus stop is only a quarter-mile away, but no one wants to push a stroller up that steep and treeless climb.

Betty at the WIC clinic gets off the bus four blocks away to avoid the arduous hill. The WIC clinic sees fewer clients than expected because of the hill. Mothers arrive hot and sweaty and asking for water.

The Public Participation Plan ad-hoc committee, tasked with developing a new public participation plan for the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization, reviewed the survey responses. After we read that comment, a member observed, “A mother trying to get her baby to the WIC office isn’t interested in a 20-year transportation plan.”

Does your long-range transportation vision include easy access to the WIC office for everyone? How would you solve this problem? What other problems would your solutions introduce?

Solution Feasibility issues Introduced problems
Reroute the bus   Affects the rest of the route
Move the WIC office Inferior office space, cost  
Run a van to the bus stop Expensive insurance, child seats, staff time  
Call Uber for the last block Expensive at $7.70, and no child seats Introduce traffic congestion
Automated vehicles Don’t exist yet Introduce traffic congestion

 

Over the past decades, the region and the nation has done an excellent job of making it easy for most people to get anywhere. The Roanoke Valley has lots of cars, lots of roads, and lots of parking places. Roanoke’s collective mobility is better than ever.

In making it so easy for most people to get everywhere, it’s become very difficult for some people to get anywhere. Over 13% of the Roanoke City households don’t have a car, but nearly all destinations can only be accessed by a car. More than 1 in every 10 people are virtually excluded from daily life: having a job, shopping, visiting the doctor, or going to church, just so that the other 9 of us can do all these things so easily.

This situation has been decades in the making, and will not change overnight. The long-range transportation plan, updated every 5 years, is about getting the balance right, keeping it easy for most people to get most places without putting a great transportation burden on the most disadvantaged.

APA Virginia Chapter Annual Conference

RVARC staff were delighted to participate in APA Virginia Chapter’s annual statewide conference here in Roanoke this week. Staff coordinated the Local Food Mobile Tour in conjunction with City of Roanoke, Virginia – Government staff. This tour showcased the West End neighborhood revitalization efforts. Special thanks to LEAP for Local FoodRoanoke Community Garden Association, Freedom First Credit Union and Carilion, among other speakers!

Fresh produce on the Local Food Mobile Tour

Staff assisted RIDE Solutions with the “Where the Sidewalk Ends” mobile tour and scavenger hunt. Participants competed to complete tasks in three regions– Downtown, Crystal Springs, and The Towers– with limited transportation resources.

“Where the sidewalk ends” scavenger hunt required participants to navigate obstructions.

What do YOU think about public participation?

Staff listen and talk to visitors at the Regional Commission Open House

Tell us what you think about public participation in transportation planning.

The following names are changed, but based on real people.

Keith drives by himself to work every day. His commute used to be an easy 15 minutes but now takes twice that or more because of congestion.

Michelle is disabled. She rides the bus to the grocery store, and schedules paratransit to the doctor. She would like to get a job at the mall, but the bus doesn’t run that late.

Carrie has a salon in a little commercial area. The truck carrying her order of hair product couldn’t get through the construction detour last week. Her customers are ordering it online instead—and she’s losing profits.

Jeff got rid of his car after one too many traffic tickets. He walks or bikes everywhere, occasionally calling Uber. Visiting his parents on the other side of the steepest hill in town is not easy!

Sarah is a Millennial who hasn’t learned to drive or ride a bicycle. Uber eats up a lot of her part-time, minimum wage job. She’s scared to walk the 1 mile or to try the bus.

Transportation is complex. Expert traffic engineers and planners are essential, but that’s not enough to design a good transportation system. A good transportation system requires YOU. Planners and engineers have training and expertise, but YOU help provide the comprehensive perspective of the entire community.

The Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization’s (RVTPO) Public Participation Plan is being updated, and the committee developing the new plan drafted the plan’s purpose and goals.

Why does the RVTPO want public participation?

What is important about public participation?

Share your thoughts! Take this short survey, and encourage your friends and colleagues to take the survey too!

Garden City Greenway

The first time I saw the Garden City Greenway I stopped and stared. It is one of the most unusual multiuse trails I’ve ever seen. The alternating white concrete and black asphalt brings to mind a chess board. I thought the contrast was to draw attention to the many driveways that cross the greenway. I invited Priscilla Cygielnik to chat about the unusual greenway she designed with the Pedestrian & Bicycle Advisory Committee.

The Garden City Greenway was initiated through a Safe Routes to School grant and completed with local and state revenue sharing funds. Therefore, its purpose is to provide a way for kids to walk and bike to school. Priscilla had many constraints when designing the trail. It was built as much as possible within the existing right-of-way of the Garden City Blvd. That makes it different from most greenways, which do not follow a road. Most greenways in Roanoke follow waterways: the Roanoke River Greenway, the Tinker Creek Greenway, and the Lick Run Greenway.

To keep it within the right-of-way of the road, it is mostly 8 feet wide, which is the minimum width for a two-way multiuse path. Bicyclists are more comfortable with 10 or 12 feet. For context, modern sidewalks are 5 feet, and most roads are at least 28 feet.

The narrowness and its location within the road’s right-of-way make it feel more like a glorified sidewalk than a bike path. But don’t take that as a criticism. Keep in mind the purpose of providing a way for kids to walk and bike to school. It serves that function very well. Other greenways have a more recreational purpose. The Garden City Greenway is not a great recreational greenway.

Even keeping it as much as possible within the road’s right-of-way, they still had to acquire some additional right-of-way. Acquiring right-of-way is the greatest expense and obstacle of most trails. In the original design, a portion of the greenway fronting one property would shrink to 5 feet because the landowner absolutely refused to sell or give up any land. However, during construction he approved of the improvements being made and agreed to sell the additional 3 feet necessary to make the improvement in front of his property.

Priscilla pointed out the driveway improvements have to do with the steep slopes downhill of the existing road.  To be able to navigate a vehicle in and out of a driveway, the entrances were specially designed to ensure proper drainage but reduce the pitch typical of standard entrances. Luckily, it was pouring rain as we walked, so we could see the drainage improvements in action.

Another landowner, this one a business, strongly opposed the project. He conceded the right-of-way needed but negotiated for having his parking lot repaved. But after the greenway was built, he called Priscilla. “I didn’t think this greenway was any good,” he told her, “but it turned out really nice.” He has new customers who walk and bike to his store.

The greatest weakness of this project, in my opinion, is the number of driveways that cross the greenway. I’ve heard more than one kid describe an experience someone backing out of their driveway hit the kid walking, biking, or roller skating down the sidewalk. Regardless of whose fault you think that is, we can reduce these incidents by reducing the potential conflicts. Priscilla said the contrasting concrete & asphalt that caught my eye was coincidence, but it is does draw attention to the driveways.

The location of the school on a busy road with lots of driveways was a decision made long ago when engineers, developers, and planners were only building for cars. Retrofitting our autocentric world to accommodate other types of travel is a long and expensive process. Many projects, like the Garden City Greenway, will just have to do the best they can, fixing the problems we can fix and living with the problems we can’t fix yet.

 

RIDE Solutions, Zagster, and Local Sponsors Debut Bike Share System

Roanoke’s new bike share debuted May 24th with a kickoff ceremony at Norfolk Southern Plaza, made possible by RIDE Solutions, Zagster, and a host of generous sponsors. The bike share program bolsters Roanoke’s overall transportation network, solves for last-mile trips, and makes Roanoke a healthier, more sustainable, and more bike-friendly community. Zagster spokesperson Keli Hoyt-Rupert said their users in other cities cite bike share as making possible access to parks and recreation opportunities they didn’t have previously.

Notable participants in the event included:

* RIDE Solutions Director Jeremy Holmes
* Roanoke City Councilman Dr. David Trinkle
* Aaron Garland and John Garland, Garland Properties
* Zagster Account Manager Keli Hoyt-Rupert

Bike sharing, long considered exclusively a big-city amenity, is now possible in smaller communities thanks to a novel model pioneered by Zagster. Unlike big-city systems, in which riders must drop off bikes at designated stations for every stop, the built-in lock on every Zagster bike gives users the freedom to ride as long as they want, wherever they want. This hybrid model, which blends dockless locking for mid-trip stops with fixed station locations for beginning and ending rides, allows users to plan their trips around their destinations – and not around station locations. As a result, the bike share promises to not only ease commutes, but to also unlock vast recreational opportunities for exercise and fun.

RVARC Awarded Technical Assistance Grant

We are proud to announce we will receive technical assistance from Transportation For America (T4America) to support our performance measures. The T4America announcement explains:

Through the support of the Kresge Foundation, T4America will be working with six metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) over the coming year to help them better measure and assess their transportation spending to bring the greatest return possible for citizens. After a competitive process conducted last month, T4America is awarding assistance on performance measures to these six MPOs across the country:

  • The Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization in Des Moines, IA
  • The Michiana Area Council of Governments in South Bend-Elkhart, IN
  • The Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization in Southeast Florida
  • The Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission in Roanoke Valley, VA
  • The Imperial Calcasieu Regional Planning and Development Commission in Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana
  • The Rapides Area Planning Commission in Alexandria/Pineville, LA

Why performance measures? To the general public, the perception is that the decisions about what to build, where and how are made in a murky, mysterious, political process. And once we do build new transportation projects, there’s little confidence that we ever go back and determine if it brought the benefits that were promised. Performance measurement is a way to start to change this perception and make spending more focused on accomplishing tangible goals.

As the survey we released earlier this year shows, the vast majority of MPOs want to find ways to do more with performance measurement, but they’re eager for some help. This new assistance program is specifically designed to help MPOs successfully respond to federal, state and local requirements — or go beyond them.

Over the next year, these six MPOs will receive hands-on technical support in meeting the new federal requirements and also with developing measures that address other goals for their regions, like increasing access to jobs and other services, supporting community-driven creative placemaking, improving public health, and supporting social equity, among others

“There will never be enough transportation dollars to get to every project idea — everyone has to do a better job of identifying the most beneficial projects. These six MPOs share a commitment to using performance measures to better serve their region’s goals and improve the accountability and effectiveness of their transportation programs,” said Beth Osborne. “They are already looking for ways to integrate these goals more directly into the decisions they make about which transportation investments to prioritize. With the support of the Kresge Foundation, T4America is excited to be able to help them do so.”

Congratulations to these six regions. T4America and our team of experts look forward to working with you over the coming year.

Safety Is the New Level of Service

Traffic fatalities (red) and injuries (yellow) in 2015

I attended the Safety Performance Measures Target Setting Workshop in Richmond, VA. That lengthy title might not mean much to you. I’ll try to explain why I was excited.

The U.S. Congress requires cities and states to report Performance Measures to the Federal Highway Administration every year, such as bridge conditions, freight movement, and traffic congestion.

The five required Safety Performance Measures are:

  • Number of fatalities
  • Number of serious injuries
  • Rate of fatalities per vehicle mile traveled
  • Rate of serious injuries per vehicle mile traveled
  • Number of bike/ped fatalities and serious injuries

Recently, Congress also required cities and states to set targets for their Safety Performance Measures. This requirement confused me. What possible fatality target can you choose other than ZERO?

I learned that “setting targets” means to calculate evidence-based “targets”, or forecast. We forecast the number of fatalities we think we’ll have based on the numbers of fatalities we’ve had over the past several years. In Virginia, it’s been declining by about 2%, so Virginia’s target is a 2% decrease.

Congress next directed the Federal Highway Administration to assess whether cities and states are meeting their targets. If Virginia’s traffic fatalities decrease by 2%, we pass! But if we see less than a 2% decrease, we don’t necessarily fail. The Federal Highway Administration will determine if we had any decrease at all. If so, we pass! If not—we fail.

The challenge doesn’t seem to be particularly stringent at first glance. If the trend of the past few years continues, we pass. Sounds like we can do nothing and get an A+!

But that’s not true. We hope that recent efforts to improve traffic safety is one of the factors causing the decline in fatalities (although we know that there are many factors). To pass, we must at least keep doing what we’ve been doing.

What are the consequences for failure? Well, nothing really. I wonder if the original legislation did include consequences, and it was watered down. Still, I’m happy with the outcome, because what elected officials wants their city or state to be the one that had too many traffic fatalities? “What gets measured, gets managed”, and we are moving away from measuring Level of Service—how many cars we can move—and moving toward measuring Safety. What Congress has done is initiated a change in culture.

With 40,000 people dying every year on US roads, it is high time.

4-to-3 Lane Conversions

Cities around the nation are phasing out their four lane roads (2 lanes in each direction) because they are not safe or efficient. A popular method is the 4-to-3 lane conversion: Replacing two of the travel lanes, one in each direction, with a single center turn lane.

A 4-to-3 lane conversion in Reston, VA

A 4-to-3 lane conversion in Reston, VA

4-to-3 lane conversions reduce crashes and injuries[1], but the idea of removing lanes from a congested road alarms some people. Counter-intuitively, 4-to-3 lane conversion projects carry MORE traffic, despite ‘losing’ a lane[2].

The number of crashes decreases without impairing the number of vehicles after 4-to-3 lane conversions.

The number of crashes decreases without impairing the number of vehicles after 4-to-3 lane conversions.

 

The reason 4-to-3 lane conversions reduce crashes and carry more traffic is because of the center turn lane. Without the center turn lane, left-turners block a lane. Drivers are stuck behind the left-turner, waiting for traffic to clear in the right lane so they can go around. With the center turn lane, left turners are out of the way.

Many crashes involve attempts to merge from one lane to another. Reducing the number of vehicles that have to merge reduces the number of crashes. Providing a place for left-turners to wait that doesn’t block a lane allows traffic to flow more freely and efficiently. On a congested road, a 4-to-3 lane conversion actually improves traffic flow! On a lightly traveled road, the conversion has no effect (good or bad) on traffic flow, but does reduce crashes. The conversion paradoxically slows traffic even while carrying more vehicles—the traffic flow is steadier and more consistent, leading to faster travel times with slower speeds and less stop-and-go.

A bonus feature of the 4-to-3 lane conversion is that it frees up space for bicycle lanes, improving the safety of bicyclists as well as drivers. Nearly all 4-to-3 lane conversions include bicycle lanes. The 4-to-3 lane conversion is makes pedestrian crossing safer and easier as well—the middle lane can be used as a ‘refuge’ when crossing the street.

Of course, nothing is free, right? An amazing thing about the 4-to-3 lane conversion is that it is nearly free! Roads are expensive, but paint is cheap. Many 4-to-3 lane conversions happen when a road is due to be resurfaced. The stripes would be repainted anyway, so the conversion costs virtually nothing!

[1] The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) examined data from 4-to-3 lane conversions at 45 sites in Iowa, California, and Washington and found as much as a 47% reduction in crashes. The effect on safety was lower on roads that did not have as many crashes to start with. Furthermore, the FHWA found that average annual daily traffic increased after the 4-to-3 lane conversions—an indication that traffic flow improved.

[2] 4-to-3 lane conversions are not appropriate for roads that carry more than 20,000 vehicles per day. Examples of 4-lane roads in the Roanoke area that carry less than 20,000 vehicles per day include Williamson Rd in Roanoke, Main St in Salem, and By Pass Rd in Vinton.

 

How do YOU go to work?

Annette Dickerson arrives at work on Bike to Work Day

Annette Dickerson arrives at work on Bike to Work Day

How do YOU go to work? Take the survey! (and enter to win one of ten $5 Starbucks gift cards)

Imagine if you didn’t have to sit in traffic on your way home, staring at the exhaust fumes of the car in front of you.

Imagine starting and ending your day with a leisurely 20-minute bicycle ride, waving at your neighbors as you pedal past.

Imagine coasting right up to the front door of your workplace, instead of circling the lot looking for the best parking spot.

Imagine all the money you save on gas and car repairs when you leave the car at home.

Imagine the look on your doctor’s face at your low heart rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Imagine breathing cleaner air because you and your co-workers, and hundreds of others like you, bicycle to work.

Bicycling to work can be good for you, good for your workplace, and good for your community. Employees don’t have to bike far, or bike every day, to experience the benefits of bicycling. Whether you want to bike or not, we’d like to know more about how you or your employees get to work. Take the Bicycle to Work Survey and enter to win a Starbucks coffee!

Employees who bicycle to work:

  • Are healthier and happier
  • Save money on transportation
  • Enjoy the ride

Employers benefit when employees bicycle to work:

  • Fewer absentee days
  • Reduced parking costs
  • Healthier, happier, and more productive employees
  • Employee retention and recruitment
  • Showcase sustainability

However, employees face many obstacles to bicycling to work:

  • No bicycle parking at work
  • No place to clean up after bicycling
  • Dangerous roads
  • Managers and co-workers hostile to bicycling
  • Live too far to bicycle

We’re studying how employers in our area can facilitate bicycling to work. If you are an employer or an employee in the Roanoke Valley, please complete this survey and enter to win one of ten $5 Starbucks gift cards. Please encourage your employees, co-workers, and employer to complete the survey too!